“That’s certainly true,” Rob said. “I will tell you this, though, because I’m your friend and someone has to tell you. You’re freaking people out with this business. There’s talk of interventions, counseling, possibly restraint.”
“You’re totally overreacting. It’s not even that big of a deal. It’s only a feeling after all.”
“Yes, a feeling—a feeling you’ve now shared with everyone we know, in every conceivable social situation for going on three weeks, a feeling that you—we—aren’t real. That we’re just characters in a story being written by some author somewhere, who we—well most of us—are unaware of, but who controls everything we do and say and think. Meaning that we have zero free will and that the entire story—our story—has already been written, and there isn’t a damned thing we can do about it, except to play our parts until the end, after which we will all fizzle out and vanish, except in the remote chance that our author wakes up one day and decides to resurrect us in a sequel story.”
“Damn, Rob. You articulate that pretty well for someone who thinks I’m out of my mind.”
“Well, I ought to be able to. I’ve heard you describe it maybe two dozen times. And let me say, just for the record, that it’s a creepy hypothesis and your friends think you’re going off the deep end.”
“Well, your concern is duly noted, but you need not worry yourselves about my mental state. And it’s not a hypothesis. A hypothesis requires data and analysis. It’s just a feeling which I will, of course, never be able to prove or disprove.”
“Which is why it’s making you so mental, no doubt. Tell me this, Ben. Suppose I play along with your feeling for just a moment. If you and I—and presumably everyone we know—are not real people but are, instead, merely characters in a story, then how can it be that I am sitting beside you right now, drinking from this glass, forming one sentence after another based on nothing more than whatever pops into my head in the moment? Seems to me your author would have thought all of this through. It would all be written down already, and whatever I’m going to say next would be of no more consequence than if I had simply read it out of a book.”
“It’s all just as you say, Rob. In fact, it sounds even more plausible when you describe it than when I try to.”
“There’s just one small problem with your hypothesis.”
“Ah yes, feeling. Humble apologies.”
“And what is the problem? I mean aside from the fact that when I say it I sound like a crazy person.”
“Well, yes, there’s that. But I was thinking more about the small matter of logic.”
“I can see my … feeling potentially having plausibility problems, but how does logic factor into it?”
“The … uh … monkey and the blue heron ate squid and then went together to see a movie.”
“I’ve just disemboweled your theory. Excuse me … feeling.”
“And how’s that?”
“Authors write stories that make sense, that have beginnings, middles, and ends, that flow in a reasonable causal timeline from start to finish. No sane storyteller would randomly insert that ridiculous sentence I just said a moment ago. It wouldn’t make any sense. Ergo no omniscient author.”
“It’s a nice try, but I’m afraid your argument is based on a flawed premise. Authors write nonsensical stories all the time. There’s a whole subgenre of postmodern works with broken fourth walls, rampant non-sequiturs, and logic that’s been tossed out like the last rotten banana. You and I could just be the product of some deranged literary mind, you know, like …Vonnegut or Barthelme.”
* * *
I need to stop here for a moment and interject. Rob and Ben have been having some version of this conversation for as long as they’ve known each other, which is roughly two hours, or the length of time I’ve been working on this story. Ben is, of course, correct in his suspicion—his ‘feeling’—concerning his origins and that of his friends. What Ben doesn’t realize—and it would only make him feel worse if he was aware of it—is that he, in fact, doesn’t actually have any friends, at least none aside from Rob, with whom he engages in this brief existential conversation. For, despite Rob’s explicit mention of friends (which presumably he and Ben share), the fact that none of these friends appear at any time in the story means that they exist only in the minds of two individuals who themselves exist only in the mind of one authentic person, i.e., me.
It is interesting that Ben turns out to be the one with the perspicacity to deduce, or at least suspect, his true, i.e. fictitious, position in the cosmos, whereas Rob seems, from the outset, absolutely convinced of his own authenticity, so much so that he (and the friends that he imagines he has) regard Ben as the delusional one. As it happens, by stopping where I did in the dialog, neither Rob nor Ben will ever know the truth of the matter. Which is probably just as well, given the certainty of Rob’s convictions.
Where this whole thing really took a left turn, though, was in that moment when I briefly considered imbuing Ben with his own modicum of literary talent so that he could, if he chose, conceive characters of his own and fill them with the same doubts and insecurities he himself feels. And it was in that instant that it occurred to me to stop and wonder whether I myself might not be suffering from the same delusion as Rob, i.e., that I, sitting here on my sofa typing happily away on my laptop, believing myself to be this clever creator of characters over whom I lord supreme authorial control, might not, instead, myself be in the same boat as Rob, clueless as to my own ephemeralness.
I, naturally, dismissed this as ridiculous, since I am, at any time, able to glance around my living room and witness all of the solidity that comprises genuine existence—the furniture, the dog on the sofa, the drip of the kitchen faucet. Ben and Rob presumably did not have the benefit of such sensory validation, since I had not gone to the trouble of including any of it in their story. But what if the author—my author—was simply a more thorough writer than me and had gone to the trouble of providing me with these things, if only, out of concern for my feelings perhaps (for what writer doesn’t love his characters?), to assuage any similar (to Ben’s)concerns that I might have. All of which would seem to leave me more in Ben’s shoes than Rob’s, since, like Ben, I now find myself sitting here wondering about my own reality instead of providing more of it for Rob and Ben. At some point, this all becomes simply turtles on top of turtles, and so the best course at this point is, I think, to just put a stop to the whole thing right here. Which means that I also need to stop thinking about it…